Kingsland Explosion
The Kingsland Explosion was an incident that took place during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 at a munitions factory in Lyndhurst
Lyndhurst, New Jersey
Lyndhurst is a township in Bergen County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township population was 20,554.Lyndhurst was originally formed as Union Township on February 19, 1852 from portions of Harrison Township...

, New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...


Soon after its outbreak in 1914 World War I settled in the West into an almost static line of trenches with the principal Allied
Allies of World War I
The Entente Powers were the countries at war with the Central Powers during World War I. The members of the Triple Entente were the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Empire; Italy entered the war on their side in 1915...

 armies facing the forces of Germany
German Empire
The German Empire refers to Germany during the "Second Reich" period from the unification of Germany and proclamation of Wilhelm I as German Emperor on 18 January 1871, to 1918, when it became a federal republic after defeat in World War I and the abdication of the Emperor, Wilhelm II.The German...

 and Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

. Despite enormous loss of life little changed in either the positions or the relative strengths of the opposing sides for much of the war on the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

. However, in the longer term the Allied forces had a significant advantage in that the Central Powers
Central Powers
The Central Powers were one of the two warring factions in World War I , composed of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria...

 needed to import both food and war raw materials in order to successfully continue the war. The Allied forces, especially the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 were very successful in blockading the Central Powers, starving them of resources.

For much of the blockade period, the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 remained "neutral" while significantly favoring the Allies. Like the Allies, the Central Powers also attempted to reduce the effectiveness of the Allies by choking off supplies to the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 in the main, mostly by use of U-Boats. The result of this was to push the US much closer to entering the war due to the attack on ships carrying American civilians.

Despite being officially neutral, U.S. efforts in supplying goods to the Allies gave a huge advantage to that side and the Central Powers attempted to even the odds by acts of sabotage on American soil. The acts were largely symbolic rather than having any real effect on the war supply efforts and only two acts were of even marginal importance, given the scale of the conflict. It is generally accepted that the acts of sabotage were carried out by the Germans although Germany never formally admitted responsibility.

Following the successful sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

 of Black Tom Island
Black Tom explosion
The Black Tom explosion on July 30, 1916 in Jersey City, New Jersey was an act of sabotage on American ammunition supplies by German agents to prevent the materiel from being used by the Allies in World War I.- Black Tom Island :...

, the next target selected by the German saboteurs was the Canadian Car and Foundry
Canadian Car and Foundry
Canadian Car and Foundry also variously known as "Canadian Car & Foundry," or more familiarly as "Can Car," manufactured buses, railroad rolling stock and later aircraft for the Canadian market...

 Company at Kingsland. The company based in Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

 signed large contracts with Russia and the United Kingdom for delivery of ammunition. An enormous factory was constructed in the New Jersey Meadowlands
New Jersey Meadowlands
New Jersey Meadowlands, also known as the Hackensack Meadowlands after the primary river flowing through it, is a general name for the large ecosystem of wetlands in northeast New Jersey in the United States. The Meadowlands are known for being the site of large landfills and decades of...

, which was then referred to as Kingsland. The company executives decided not to take any chances with security for their plant. They constructed a six-foot fence around the plant and hired security guards to conduct 24-hour patrols around the perimeter and to screen each worker as they entered the plant. It was located on the site of Lyndhurst
Lyndhurst, New Jersey
Lyndhurst is a township in Bergen County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township population was 20,554.Lyndhurst was originally formed as Union Township on February 19, 1852 from portions of Harrison Township...

’s present industrial park. A brick stack, believed to be the remaining part of the Foundry, is located in the area bounded by Valley Brook Avenue, Polito Avenue, and the office buildings on Wall Street West.

On January 11, 1917, a fire started in Building 30 of the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Kingsland, (now Lyndhurst
Lyndhurst, New Jersey
Lyndhurst is a township in Bergen County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township population was 20,554.Lyndhurst was originally formed as Union Township on February 19, 1852 from portions of Harrison Township...

) Bergen County, New Jersey
Bergen County, New Jersey
Bergen County is the most populous county of the state of New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, its population was 905,116. The county is part of the New York City Metropolitan Area. Its county seat is Hackensack...

. In 4 hours, probably 500 000 pieces of 76 mm (3") -high explosive shells were discharged. The entire plant was destroyed. It was said to have been a spectacle more magnificent than the explosion at Black Tom. From the office buildings and tall apartments, people in New York City, watched with amazement.

The building

In March 1916, World War I was in progress. Although the United States had not yet entered the war, the country was assisting its allies with war supplies. Munitions, including shells, shell cases, shrapnel, and powder were shipped to Kingsland from over 100 different factories. At the foundry they were assembled for shipment to Russia. Since it was producing 3 000 000 shells per month, the factory was definitely a worthy objective for German saboteurs.

This building was used exclusively for cleaning out shells; it contained 48 workbenches. On the bench in front of each employee was a pan of gasoline
Gasoline , or petrol , is a toxic, translucent, petroleum-derived liquid that is primarily used as a fuel in internal combustion engines. It consists mostly of organic compounds obtained by the fractional distillation of petroleum, enhanced with a variety of additives. Some gasolines also contain...

 and a small rotating machine operated by a belt. The cleaning process included several steps:
  • The shells were dusted with a brush
  • A cloth, moistened in the pan of gasoline, was wrapped around a foot-long piece of wood
  • The shell was placed in the rotating machine and the wood was inserted into the shell as it turned
  • A dry cloth was wrapped around the stick and the shell was dried in a similar manner.

The Sabotage

The group of saboteurs operated under the direction of Frederick Hinsch. He recruited a German national Curt Thummel, who changed his name to Charles Thorne. Hinsch instructed Thorne to obtain employment at the factory. Thorne was hired as assistant employment manager. In this position he facilitated the hiring of several operatives sent by Hinsch to infiltrate the factory. One of those employees was Theodore Wozniak.

After the Kingsland plant was completely destroyed, police and federal investigators uncovered the source of the fire. It started at Wozniak's workbench in Building 30.

Other workmen alleged that the fire began in front of Wozniak’s wooden roller. One of the company directors, Mr. Cahan, remarked about Wozniak’s nervous behavior and contradictions during an interview about the incident. Wozniak, who admitted that he had served time in the Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n Army, was told by Mr. Cahan that he would be needed in New York as part of the investigation into the fire. Wozniak, who lived at the Russian Immigrant House on Third Street in New York City, eluded the detectives who were watching him and disappeared.

The Heroine

Kingsland resident Theresa Louise "Tessie" McNamara, who operated the company switchboard, was credited with saving 1,400 lives; Despite the fire McNamara stayed at the switchboard. She plugged in each of the buildings and shouted the warning, “Get out or go up!” No one was killed in the fire as a result of her announcements. Fleeing workers were able to cross the frozen Hackensack River
Hackensack River
The Hackensack River is a river, approximately 45 miles long, in the U.S. states of New York and New Jersey, emptying into Newark Bay, a back chamber of New York Harbor. The watershed of the river includes part of the suburban area outside New York City just west of the lower Hudson River,...

 or run up Valley Brook Avenue to safety. Some of those who crossed the Hackensack River made their way to the buildings on Snake Hill
Snake Hill
Snake Hill is an igneous rock intrusion jutting some 150 feet up from the floor of the Meadowlands in Secaucus, New Jersey, USA. It was largely obliterated by quarrying in the 1960s that reduced its height by one-quarter and its base area by four fifths...


The National Special Aid Society later presented McNamara with a check to honor her for her bravery.

The Lyndhurst Historical Society has created a vest pocket park dedicated to McNamara's memory. The park is located on Clay Avenue, between Valley Brook Avenue and Wall Street West. The brick stack can be seen from this park.

Terror ruled Snake Hill

There were Hudson County
Hudson County, New Jersey
Hudson County is the smallest county in New Jersey and one of the most densely populated in United States. It takes its name from the Hudson River, which creates part of its eastern border. Part of the New York metropolitan area, its county seat and largest city is Jersey City.- Municipalities...

 penal and charitable institutions on Snake Hill, in Secaucus
Secaucus, New Jersey
Secaucus is a town in Hudson County, New Jersey. As of the 2010 United States Census, the town population was 16,264. Located within the New Jersey Meadowlands, it is the most suburban of the county's municipalities, though large parts of the town are dedicated to light manufacturing, retail, and...

. The Almshouse
Almshouses are charitable housing provided to enable people to live in a particular community...

, Penitentiary
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

, and Hospital for the Insane, Contagious Diseases Hospital, and Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

A sanatorium is a medical facility for long-term illness, most typically associated with treatment of tuberculosis before antibiotics...

, were all grouped on the north side of Snake Hill. When the fire and ensuing explosions started, the residents of Snake Hill began to panic, fearing the world was coming to an end. From the windows they could see what the warden later described as a big display of fireworks. As the 900+ inmates of the asylum grew more panicked, the superintendent, Dr. George W. King, and Dr. James Meehan, chairman of the Hospital committee figured a way to calm the residents. Dr. Meehan hurried to the hospital with supplies of ice cream, fruits and candies. The inmates were assembled in the lecture hall and they were told that the European War had ended and the explosions were detonations of big guns to celebrate the event.


A reparations case was launched by John J. McCloy
John J. McCloy
John Jay McCloy was a lawyer and banker who served as Assistant Secretary of War during World War II, president of the World Bank and U.S. High Commissioner for Germany...

against Germany in 1934 that dragged on for many years and was finally settled in the 1950s. Germany never admitted guilt, but paid reparations to the United States.

External links

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